Research Publications

Harpe Brothers - Magby's band of Avengers

5. Magby’s Band of Avengers

         Magby then got up a band of regulators to deal with the Harpes. Stricken, savagely angered by the deaths of his wife and son, Stegall volunteered to join the group. Among the other regulators were William Grissom, Matthew Christian, James Tompkins, and Neville Lindsey. The final member was John Leiper, a newcomer to the area. Some mystery shadows his reputation. Seemingly he had known the Harpes before their coming to western Kentucky.

         The band set out on a hot August afternoon. The trail of the Harpes, who had rejoined their women, was fairly easy to follow. The following day the regulators caught up with the band when they discovered Micajah and Wiley Harpe talking with a stranger. The Harpes fled in different directions. The regulators were distracted by the third man, who ran toward them but then bolted toward a nearby tree. Magby fired, wounding the man, who happened to be George Smith, who lived in the vicinity. He had just encountered the Harpes and was fearful of his life when Magby's band appeared. The regulators realized that the Harpe band could not be far. They mounted a hill and discovered a small cave, where the outlaws and their women had been camping. Sally Rice Harpe, evidently abandoned by the others, pointed the direction in which the mounted Micajah Harpe and the two Roberts women had fled.

         The chase resumed. Soon Susan Harpe and Betsey Roberts were apprehended. With John Leiper taking the lead, the band followed Micajah Harpe's trail. The caught up with him by a cane break. A ball from Leiper's rifle shattered Harpe's spine, but Micajah Harpe had enough energy to goad his horse into the brake. The pursuers caught up with him on the other side. The willingness to fight had left the brigand. Leiper and Christian lowered him from his mount to the ground beneath a tree. As the others drew near, Harpe, still able to speak, apparently told of many of his crimes, supplying the listeners with facts. Eventually Stegall arrived. Bitterly he asked how long they would keep Harpe alive. Two versions occur of what follows. Declaring that he wanted Harpe's head, Stegall killed the outlaw with a bullet and then cut off his head. The other version reports that Stegall suddenly decided against the fatal shot and, taking knife in hand, decapitated the still living renegade.